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Cannabis smoking in youth could impact health in later life

Young cannabis smokers could be putting themselves at risk from developing heart disease in later life, researchers have said.

A study, carried out by the University of Guelph, has found a link between early cannabis use and important changes to the heart and arteries later in life.

Although research has shown that cigarette smoking significantly impacts cardiovascular health, not much is known about how smoking affects the health in the long-term.

Dr Christian Cheung, a PhD student in the Human Performance and Health Research Lab, part of the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS), said: “Cannabis is really widely used as a recreational substance all around the world and is becoming increasingly so. Scientists haven’t done that research with cannabis.”

The trial involved 35 people aged between 19 and 30, half of whom were cannabis users.

Ultrasound imaging was used to look at their heart and arteries at the beginning of the study period.

Various measurements which are used to track cardiovascular function and potential disease risk were taken at the beginning of the study.

The researchers found there were significant changes among the cannabis smokers. There was evidence of arterial stiffness among the drug users when compared to those who abstain, and the cardiac function was lower among the cannabis smokers too.

Surprisingly, the team found no difference in artery dilation in response to changing blood flow among the two different groups. This is a marker that would normally change among cigarette smokers, and this finding has baffled the research team.

Dr Cheung said: “We don’t yet know why in cannabis users there’s no difference in vascular function. We looked at young cannabis users. In the cigarette literature, heavy, long-term smokers show reduced vascular function but that’s not necessarily the case for younger smokers.”

Study co-author Dr Jamie Burr added: “This is exciting new data, suggesting that even before more overt signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease are present, there may be more subtle indications in altered physiological function.”

“It also paves the way to our next studies, aimed at understanding the direct effects of cannabis consumption, and how this may interact with common stressors of everyday life, like exercise.”

The findings have been published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

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